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Chapter 24:
Atmospheric Compensation
These are exciting times for astronomy. The phenomenal success of the Hubble Space Telescope is due, for the most part, to the fact that for the first time in history we have been able to observe the universe through a diffraction-limited 2.4-m aperture. We are now facing the prospect of diffraction-limited performance from ground-based telescopes having even larger apertures. Eight- and ten-meter telescopes are a reality - and we may see 30 to 100-m telescopes in the first quarter of this century. Eliminating the distorting effects of the atmosphere in these giant telescopes presents enormous engineering challenges - comparable or greater than those associated with designing and building a large seeing-limited telescope in the first place. Nevertheless, since resolution seems to be the single most important enabler of new discoveries, it is not acceptable to contemplate a large telescope project without also contemplating atmospheric compensation.
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